Gut-wrenching terror and possibly ‘No Escape’

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Ron and Leigh Martel Movie Reviewers, The Friday Flyer

Ron and Leigh Martel
Movie Reviewers, The Friday Flyer

Those with inherent fears of traveling abroad will realize their worst nightmares all in one sitting with “No Escape.” Probably not endorsed by the Southeast Asian Tourist Bureau, it was produced as a political action-thriller but is a terrifying account of Americans caught in a violent coup against a corporate devised puppet regime.

Comedic actor Owen Wilson, as engineer Jack Dwyer, has little to laugh about as he and wife Annie (Lake Bell) struggle to adjust to moving their family from Austin, Texas to the third world. Trying to make a better life with this multi-national corporation, they will allegedly enhance the lives of the locals with an improved water treatment plant.

Filmed in Thailand, the story takes place in an unnamed country (Cambodia or Laos). John Erick Dowdle (“As Above, So Below” and “Quarantine”) directed and co-wrote with brother Drew, who produced. From the outset, they depict a stressful situation as Jack and Annie desperately try to entertain their two young daughters on the 17-hour flight.

Jack and Annie are naturally apprehensive about the move but, based on the dialog and body language, clearly regret leaving their friends, family and home for this unknown destination on the other side of the world. On the flight, they happen upon a friendly stranger in the row behind. Played by Pierce Brosnan, this is not the suave “James Bond,” but a scruffy, disheveled rascal calling himself “Hammond.”

As the company-provided limo to the hotel and reception is a no-show, Hammond and his local buddy Kenny Rogers (Sahajak Boonthanakit), a likeable tuk-tuk driver, are eager to assist. We didn’t expect this to exactly be portrayed as a romantic Sandals vacation, but the tension is excruciating, even on the flight, at the airport and upon arrival at the hotel, where the expected corporate greeters are nowhere to be found.

After the rebellion erupts, the unbearable tension turns to gut-wrenching terror. Armed rebels violently overtake the police force and begin executing Americans, Europeans and their sympathizers at will. In the midst of mass chaos, Jack, who is in the streets, must return to the hotel and somehow get his family to safety.

This is Wilson’s first non-comedic role since “Behind Enemy Lines” (2001). He might not have been our first choice, but is perfectly suited to relieve the tension of his frightened daughters in each anxious or perilous situation. Michelle Monaghan was originally cast as his wife, but dropped due to her pregnancy. Lake Bell was fully credible as the caring and supportive wife and mother caught in a series of hopeless situations.

All too often, Hollywood would make Jack a former CIA operative or hard-core LAPD officer on vacation. But, the horror is watching a believably ordinary family caught in the midst of this terrifying militant uprising. Completely displaced, untrained and unarmed with anything other than their own wits, the condition is further complicated by the “Ugly Americans” being unsuspecting targets of the coup.

Children might not fully understand such a dilemma, but the girls depicted here were unnecessarily dim-witted. Maybe we give kids too much credit, but they did add to the family’s vulnerability and exasperated the challenge of getting to the American Embassy, assuming it was not over-taken by the assailants.

“No Escape” is 103 minutes and rated R for violence and language. This might be the most xenophobic movie ever made. It could just have easily been set in the Middle East, Latin America or Africa. It’s a horror flick without zombies, aliens or over-sized monsters, but for some, these fears are as real or imagined in their minds as any other “monster.”

Brosnan seems comfortable as the off-beat British tourist and Wilson as an ordinary father desperate to save his family. The action is riveting, relentless and exhausting, but also carries a not-so-subtle message about multi-national corporations meddling in governmental regimes. If so, this wasn’t really a crisis. On the company Power Point presentation, maybe it was just “program improvements and opportunities.”

Ron’s Rating: C   Leigh’s Rating: C

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Ron & Leigh Martel